The Eastern Baptist Association has an interesting tradition: the incoming Regional Minister (aka me) preaches at their own induction. I pondered this for a while and in the end felt led to preach to myself. You may have heard of ‘preaching to the choir’ but I was ‘preaching to the preacher’. This is an extract from the sermon I preached. I hope I was listening and that you will forgive the change in ‘person’:
There is one verse in this passage that really resonated with me. It is the verse that came to my mind immediately when I started thinking and praying about this sermon.
1 Corinthians 3v6: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”
The church in Corinth had become divided by allegiance to different preachers and teachers. Paul instead saw teamwork in the different leaders. His job had been to plant the church and see the seedling of grow. Apollos had come and watered the plant, tending it and helping it to grow strong. That is why an image of a hand holding a seedling was on the invitations for my Induction.
Just as Paul recognised that there are different roles for everyone in the church, he also recognised that these are best expressed when we work in partnership with each other rather than on our own or, worse still, in competition. He would not let the church in Corinth create a division between him and Apollos which did not exist.
Teamwork is incredibly important. I have been so privileged to have been part of amazing teams throughout my ministry – in Horsham, at Baptist House and latterly in Colchester. And now I am privileged to work in a new team in the Eastern Baptist Association.
But Nick, you need to recognise that you have already been a part of that team. For the past 6½ years as one of the Ministers at Colchester Baptist Church you have also been part of the Eastern Baptist Association team. The team includes Regional Ministers, yes, but it also includes Ministers of local churches and chaplains, and it also includes all those who are part of those local churches. And the EBA is part of a wider team: partners with the Central Baptist Association; partners with the other churches in the area and beyond; part of the national Union of about 2100 churches and of course the global family of believers – the Church.
Like you, Nick, Paul had moved from local church to a more itinerant ministry, but he still saw himself as a partner in the gospel with Apollos who was in the local church, and the local church in Corinth. Make sure you don’t lose sight of that and make sure you partner with others for the sake of the gospel.
Teamwork is really important. But it is important to recognise the whole team and play your part well. Paul described himself and Apollos as ‘servants’. The word here is used for those who wait at the table – waiters. And in a Michelin starred restaurant you don’t praise the waiters you praise the chef! All that Paul and Apollos were doing was serve the food which God had prepared. The key member of the team is the one who brings the growth: Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God brings the growth.
Growth has all sorts of dimensions. It can be spiritual growth as individuals as we follow Jesus more closely and his Spirit works in us. It can be growth in churches – numerical but also becoming more mature (moving from milk to solid food). It can be, and please God is most of all, growth through conversions – people coming to faith in Jesus. All of this is Kingdom growth. All of this is growth brought about by the King.
That should encourage us. God brings growth. Sometimes we can see it – perhaps it is under the surface. Sometimes we are looking for the wrong sort of growth – often we want to see more people in church on a Sunday when God might be bringing about another sort of growth altogether. But Nick never forget that it’s God’s task to bring the growth not yours.
That releases you from some of the burden and responsibility that you might feel. But it does not mean you can sit back and let it all happen. You are to plant, water, nurture, weed, dig and do all you can to help the churches you serve be places where God’s growth can take place.
Be blessed, be a blessing